Six steps to revamp your lifestyle and lower your risk of heart disease
Give Your Heart a Makeover
February 9, 2016 -- Since February is American Heart Health month, what better time to raise awareness of heart disease and stroke among women? Did you know that heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death for women in the United States? More women than men die of heart disease, but many women are unaware of the danger they’re in.
Heart disease is a term that covers several types of diseases of the heart, blood, arteries, and veins. Having heart disease can often result in heart failure, heart attack, stroke, or peripheral artery disease. The risks for developing heart disease range from age, gender, family history, diet, blood pressure, level of cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, and stress.
It doesn’t take much to improve your heart health. In fact, heart disease is about 80 percent preventable when you make the right choices, says B. Shields Stutts, MD, a board-certified cardiologist with nearly 40 years of experience. Ready to make over your heart? Let’s get started.
1. Stop It Right Now
“There are a couple of things I always stress,” Dr. Stutts says. “First, avoid cigarette smoking and secondhand smoke.” The reasons are clear: Smoking contributes to the buildup of fatty substances in the arteries, increases blood pressure and lowers good (HDL) cholesterol. Plus, a double whammy for the heart, smokers also tend to have more difficulty exercising.
2. Move More
“Physical activity is so powerful. If you can do nothing else, move every day,” Dr. Stutts says. People who are active are better at controlling their weight, keeping blood pressure low and managing cholesterol levels.
You don’t need to huff and puff to reap the benefits—a daily 30-minute brisk walk (or three 10-minute walks) is a good start.
3. Taste the Rainbow
A healthy diet is essential to a healthy heart. Start by avoiding processed foods and loading up on fruits and vegetables, says Dr. Stutts. “Having a colorful plate leads to heart-healthy choices,” he explains. “Favor vegetables over fruit preferably.”
4. Suppress Stress
One of the keys to a healthier ticker is managing stress.
Stressful situations can start a number of chain reactions,” Dr. Stutts says. “Your body releases adrenaline, a hormone that temporarily causes your breathing and heart rate to speed up, and if you’re under constant stress, this can keep happening on and off.”
While researchers are still trying to understand the exact link, they do know that stress raises blood pressure levels. And for some people, it might invite unhealthy coping mechanisms, like smoking or alcohol.
So what can you do to chill out? It’s easy. You’ll feel better with just 20 minutes of daily laughter, meditation, yoga or deep breathing.
5. Hit the Hay
When we don’t get enough sleep, we see increases in the stress hormone cortisol and blood pressure levels. “Constantly elevated cortisol and blood pressure damages the lining of the blood vessels of the heart,” says Dr. Stutts. Try to aim for seven to eight hours of shuteye each night.
6. See Your MD
High blood pressure and elevated blood sugar and cholesterol levels raise your risk of heart disease. But you won’t know whether your numbers are high without seeing your doctor.
“You have to have a discussion with your doctor to see where you are,” Dr. Stutts says. If your levels are out of range, your doctor may prescribe medications that can help control these important risk factors.
Check Your Heart
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